All posts filed under: Reviews: Books & Film

Cloud Atlas (film, 2012)

It was the end of my summer season working Glacier Bay National Park, which puts it sometime circa 2012 or 2013. I decided to visit a bit of southeast Alaska, including Sitka, and while in Sitka I stayed at a pretty rad little hostel. I was told that the little group of guests would be watching a film that night, and so I joined the merry band. It was a rather odd forum for film viewing. We all sat in the hallway, awkwardly leaning up against the walls or lounging on pillows, contorting our bodies every which way in order to view the projector screen that was set up at the end of the hallway, in the door that led to the porch. And so it was that I watched Cloud Atlas, for the first time. And like many fans of the film, I knew I would have to see it again. And again, and again, etc.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

On the surface, the novel Beloved seems like literature that makes us more aware of the brutality of slavery — the physical and emotional abuses, the violence, and the dehumanization. It is, all of these, of course, but I think that what sets Toni Morrison’s novel apart, and what has earned her the well-deserved international acclaim she has achieved, is that she goes deeper, to really get under our skin, as it were. For me, reading Beloved made me acutely aware of the color of my skin. This is perhaps as good as it gets, when it comes to fiction writing, because Beloved forces the reader to confront themselves in relation to skin color and in relation to the brutality of racism, both past and present. Morrison does all this simpy by being a great writer, by putting the reader there, right there in the middle of it all.

Yuval Noah Harari: Brexit will not halt drive to ‘human unification’ 

I’m looking forward to Yuval Harari’s new book, set to be released this August. I’m a big fan of Sapiens, and I thought that this quote (from Harari’s forthcoming book) was worth passing along: “We have a global ecology, a global economy and a global science – but we are still stuck with only national politics,” he adds. “To have effective politics we must either deglobalise the ecology, the economy or the march of science – or we must globalise our politics.” In other words, the nation-state is out of date. Is nationalism one of the last (desperate) gasp of tribal politics in the modern era? Of capitalism? For me, Harari always raises very relevant and speculative questions. Source: Yuval Noah Harari: Brexit will not halt drive to ‘human unification’ | Culture | The Guardian

Happy Belated Tax Day! “We Absolutely Blew It!”

John Oliver had a fantastic bit on taxes, and I meant to post it on April 15th. I forgot, somehow, but then resolved to post it anyway, albeit a few days late. Now we are well into May, and I realize that I completely spaced this post. So even though this post may not have the same punch as it does on tax day, when we lament the amount of money that we have to pay to fund Trump’s increased security needs or Jeff Sessions’ quixotic renewal of the absurd “war on drugs,” it’s still worth taking a look.

Audre Lorde: no such thing as a single-issue struggle

Wisdom on unity and diversity, in the struggle for civil rights, by Audre Lorde, Learning from the 60s February 1982: The 60s were characterized by a heady belief in instantaneous solutions.  They were vital years of awakening, of pride, and of error. The civil rights and Black power movements rekindled possibilities for disenfranchised groups within this nation.  Even though we fought common enemies, at times the lure of individual solutions made us careless of each other. Sometimes we could not bear the face of each other’s differences because of what we feared those differences might say about ourselves. As if everybody can’t eventually be too Black, too white, too man, too woman.  But any future vision which can encompass all of us, by definition, must be complex and expanding, not easy to achieve. The answer to cold is heat, the answer to hunger is food. But there is no simple monolithic solution to racism, to sexism, to homophobia.  There is only the conscious focusing within each of my days to move against them, wherever I …

Myths of the old gods

Pretty much the entire Make America Great Again narrative is driven by the “American Way,” by a sense of exceptionalism and entitlement: We’re Americans, dammit and if we don’t have the highest standard of living in the world then heads are gonna roll!  [Enter stage right, the orange billionaire, intent on “taking our country back” armed with his Tweets of Fire & Fury]

Clayton Bigsby and the artificial construct of race

In his book, Invisible Man Got the Whole World Watching (2016), Mychal Denzel Smith discusses one of the skits from the classic Chapelle Show. In his Clayton Bigsby skit, Dave Chapelle brilliantly illustrates how race is a cultural construct, a fiction, a story, a mythology that creates a certain form of life. Developed circa 2007, Clayton Bigsby was one of Dave Chapelle’s most controversial skits: A Frontline investigation goes undercover seeking to come face to face with Clayton Bigsby, an author who has galvanized white supremacists everywhere with his fierce and uncompromising books on white power. Much to the shock of the Frontline journalist and the TV audience, it is discovered that Clayton Bigsby is actually black. He’s just blind and doesn’t know it.

The Eichmann Show (2015)

The Eichmann Show is a BBC production currently airing on Netflix. It’s 1961 and Israeli agents have captured Adolf Eichmann, one of the organizers of the Holocaust, while in hiding in Argentina. Eichmann is brought back for trial in Jerusalem. The Eichmann Show, however, does not center on the trial or on Eichmann himself, rather the film dramatizes the action on the other side of the camera, the quest of the American director Leo Hurwitz to capture Eichmann’s humanity. Hurwitz believes that doing so will show the world that fascism and genocide are not a uniquely NAZI phenomenon, it’s part of the human condition. The great evil in the world, Hurwitz believes, is not the domain of monsters, of devils and of demons. Under the right circumstances, we are all capable of monstrosities, and Hurwitz can capture Eichmann’s humanity, even just one authentic moment of real human emotion, then Hurwitz believes that he will have done something profound.  

David Foster Wallace

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (2012)

I recently finished Every Loves Story is A Ghost Story, a biography of David Foster Wallace. It was one of the best biographies I’ve read in quite a while, which is perhaps a bit surprising when you think about it, because a writer’s life doesn’t really tend to be the stuff of compelling story telling. Wallace himself joked about this. The writer’s life is not necessarily the stuff that makes for a tense, action-packed thriller. Even so, I was hooked. Maybe it’s just that I’m a writer and reading about the neurotic life of another writer is appealing, therapeutic even, but I think D. T. Max in truth just knocked it out of the park. It was easy to empathize with Wallace, in his struggle to write something in a form that both resonated with and challenged his contemporaries, all the while dealing with very intense periods of depression and self-doubt.

Why ‘Black Panther’ Is a Defining Moment for Black America | Carvell Wallace, The New York Times

I made a rare appearance at the theater last night, and rarer still, I purchased my favorite salty-sweet combination — popcorn and Sprite — my craving setting me back nearly fifteen bucks. (Such a purchase generally requires something along the lines of a leap of faith, i.e., that I step up to the concession and order without first checking to see what it will cost.) It was all to see Black Panther, in Columbus, Ohio, with my sister and brother-in-law. I was truly spellbound by the film, riveted by the cool inversion of the generally accepted norm that white Western capitalist culture is the superior standard and the rightful model for modernity and beyond. There’s something innovative and new here, with this film, something that is refreshing. As director Ryan Cooglar put it, “The concept of an African story, with actors of African descent at the forefront, combined with the scale of modern franchise filmmaking, is something that hasn’t really been seen before. You feel like you’re getting the opportunity of seeing something fresh, being …

Talking Trump: Trust me everyone’s talking about it, and believe me it’s bigly

There is a fine article in the The Atlantic. It’s a very fine article in the very fine magazine The Atlantic. This article, How to Talk Trump: A short guide to speaking the president’s dialect, is — look, it’s a very fine article, and truly they do very fine, really good work at The Atlantic, so if you want to speak big league, like Donald Trump, who is, frankly, the President of the United States, I might add, then you will absolutely read this article.

On writing: Giving your laughter a bit of weight

I finished the first installment of David Sedaris’ diaries a few months back. I would only recommend it to the most rabid of Sedaris fanatics. After all, they are, in fact, the Sedaris diaries. They are not categorized by subject or topic — there’s no attempt to add a coherent theme or an organizing principle of any sort. It’s just the Sedaris diaries, which for most would be uninteresting, perhaps a form of torture, even; but if you want to know the life of Sedaris and get an even better sense of his writing process, then it’s worthwhile. I had a good deal of fun with it, listening to Sedaris himself narrate the audiobook. I also stumbled across a short six-minute video, linked below, of Sedaris discussing the diaries. In the vid he tosses out a few bits of writerly wisdom.

Manhunt: Unabomber (2017, Netflix)

Manhunt is an intriguing series. It dramatizes the story of Ted Kaczynski, aka the UNABOMBER. Those of us who grew up in the Nineties remember the story of bombs that arrived by mail and exploded in the hands of the recipients. It went on for years and years, the FBI’s most expensive manhunt. The new Netflix series, Manhunt, is a compelling crime story, but it’s far more. Before he was caught, Kaczynski was actually able to negotiate to have his manifesto printed in the Washington Post. At the time, the public dismissed the manifesto whose premise seemed ridiculous: The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. It was easy enough, back then, to reject Kaczynski as mentally insane, but this Netflix series raises the provocative question: was Ted Kaczynski right?

Invisible Man, Mychal Denzel Smith (2016)

This last weekend I started reading Mychal Denzel Smith, Invisible Man, Got The Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education (2016). I’ve just started, but I appreciate how Smith immediately gets to the essential and defining issue for activists in the 21st century: connecting the dots between all of the forms of privilege and prejudice. One of the first things Smith talks about is how his dissatisfaction with the status quo led him to read radical thinkers, which tended to be male-dominated. The strength and bravado of the great black figures like Malcolm X helped Smith in his journy to discover himself as a radical and to more intimately understand himself as a person, but it had its limits.

Jenny Diski on fucking loving clichés

I’m enjoying reading Jenny Diski, this for the first time. She’s a Brit and not very widely read here in the states, but she’s a truly talented writer, with a compelling life story. Diski’s memoir writing takes her blunt and unapologetic descriptions of her unorthodox life and combines them with understated British humor and interludes of literary flourish that somehow remain unpretentious.